Christian Philipp Müller

Christian Philipp Müller’s recent exhibition, “Imagetransfer,” offered a manifold consideration of “place,” addressing Cologne’s status as a city of culture, issues of cultural sponsorship, and the often freighted relationship between economic and cultural activities. The show consisted principally of two installations featuring framed drawings, file folders, and high, white plinths that could stand alone as Minimalist sculpture.

In both works, the drawings were hung in a grid formation on a wall in front of which Müller posed one of the white podiumlike stands. Two campaigns produced by the Chamber of Industry and Commerce in conjunction with the city of Cologne were the inspiration for Müller’s drawings. The installation International Commitment (all works 1998), was based on a brochure titled “ColognePlus,” in which representatives of large multinational ventures with Cologne offices outlined the economic advantages of the city, beginning with the observation, “Cologne is equally renowned as a centre of culture and commerce.” For the second installation, Köln macht Zukunft (Cologne makes the future), Müller looked to a brochure from a largescale public ad campaign promoting the idea that the economic strength of Cologne could be attributed to its threemain attractions: “Kunst, Kirche und Karneval” (Art, church, and carnival). Using tracing paper, Müller transferred portraits and statements of the companies’ representatives from the illustrated advertisements and brochures onto cardboard. The title “Imagetransfer” refers as much to the technique Müller employed to transpose the brochures as to the desired effect of cultural sponsorship: to transfer the image of art onto a corporation’s own products.

At first glance, Müller’s artistic process appears to be an objective rendering of the facts, similar to that of Hans Haacke, but without the unequivocal statements. Yet Müller subtly, though decisively, altered the original material by creating new combinations, carefully selecting the statements, and reducing the photographs to stark drawings with few interior lines. Furthermore, Müller made the drawings of the multinational companies larger than those of the local firms, formally emphasizing the multinationals’ greater influence.

On each of the installations’ podiums rested two file folders, one containing the questions Müller presented to the companies regarding their cultural sponsorship activities, the other holding the written corporate responses, which were often more revealing of company policy than the official brochures. In several cases, a firm misconstrued Müller’s letter as a request for funding. One company played up its social engagement over its sponsorship of culture, while another admitted to promoting only large (and therefore high-profile) cultural events.

What made this exhibition stand out was Müller’s precise formal framing: He achieved by minimal means convincing and suggestive portraits of the companies, which stand at odds with their official self-presentation. Despite his somewhat biased evaluation, he succeeded in avoiding a one-sided agitprop approach and did justice to the ambivalence of his chosen theme.

Yilmaz Dziewior

Translated from German by Diana Reese